SEVEN senators have sought an audit of the government’s spending to fight a coronavirus pandemic that has sickened more than 80,000 and killed almost 2,000 people in the Philippines.
In a resolution, seven lawmakers asked the Commission on Audit to look at the expenditures as well as government loans and donations before Congress tackles the 2021 national budget.
“Congress early this year, through the Bayanihan Act, gave the government comprehensive powers, including the power to realign and allocate billions of taxpayers’ money to respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We need to know if the help went to those who need it,” the opposition senator said in Filipino.
Senators Ralph G. Recto, Franklin M. Drilon, Juan Edgardo M. Angara, Panfilo M. Lacson, Francis N. Pangilinan and Leila M. de Lima also signed the resolution.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday asked lawmakers to pass stimulus measures to revive an economy on the brink of a recession caused by a coronavirus lockdown that is one of the world’s strictest and longest.
Analysts, business leaders and opposition lawmakers said he failed to say in his year address to Congress how exactly he planned to go about it.
The tough-talking Philippine leader urged lawmakers to support his economic recovery plan by fast-tracking the second version of the bill giving him special powers in dealing with the pandemic, including realigning government funds.
The first law that has since expired let him realign about P275 billion to state programs against the coronavirus. The second measure seeks to let him allocate another P140 billion for various programs during the health emergency.
Mr. Duterte, who is down to his last two years in office and barred by law from seeking reelection, is under pressure to revive the economy to keep his political capital and ensure the victory of his chosen candidate in the 2022 presidential elections. At least three presidents before him had either been sued or jailed for corruption.
The lawmakers cited issues of overpricing including in the purchase of a P4-million nucleic acid extractor compared with a similar equipment that the private sector bought for P1.75 million.
The government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte also bought personal protective equipment for P1,800 each, higher than the market price of P400 to P1,000, they said.
The senators also questioned the imports of COVID-19 test kits from China and Korea as locally made test kits that are cheaper, were left unused.
The special audit will help Congress decide on next year’s national budget, according to the Senate resolution. The Budget department is expected to submit a P4.5-trillion expenditure program to Congress next month.
“Anticipating that massive allocations will need to be made to address the health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19, it is of critical importance that there be audit findings to guide legislators,” the senators said in the resolution.
The resolution comes as the Senate starts a Committee of the Whole to probe alleged corruption at the Department of Health and Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
The chamber on Tuesday approved the bill extending Mr. Duterte’s special powers in dealing with the pandemic and easing procurement processes for medical supplies.
Also yesterday, the Department of Health reported 1,874 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 85,486.
The tally matched the projection made by University of the Philippines researchers on July 16. The researchers had said infections could top 85,000 by the end of the month, with 2,000 deaths.
The death toll rose to 1,962 after 16 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 388 to 26,996, it said in a bulletin.
Of the 56,528 active cases, 90% had mild symptoms, 9% did not show symptoms and less than 1% were either severe or critical, the agency said.
Of the new cases, 728 were from Metro Manila, 325 from Cebu province, 130 from Laguna, 67 from Iloilo and 53 from Rizal, DoH said. The data came from 83 out of 91 testing laboratories, it added.
There were now 166 candidate vaccines for COVID-19 and the number could reach more than 200, Food and Drug Administration Director General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo told an online news briefing, citing the World Health Organization.
Of these, about 140 were still in the early clinical trial phase, while 25 were in the clinical trial stage. Twenty of the 25 were in the first or second phases, where the drugs are tested using a smaller number of about 20 to 30.
Five of those in the clinical trial stage were in the third phase, where the drugs were being used on as many as 30,000 people, he said. Three of the drugs were from China, and one each from London and the US.
Mr. Domingo also said there are six candidate vaccines that could possibly undergo clinical trial in the Philippines, based on the update from the Department of Science and Technology.
The UP researchers earlier cautioned the government against “prematurely downgrading the quarantine status” in high-risk areas including Metro Manila and Cebu, where there had been a surge in COVID-19 infections.
They said Cebu City should remain under a strict quarantine, while the capital region should be kept under a general lockdown to ensure the gains made did not go to waste. The researchers also sought “more aggressive and effective localized lockdowns and stricter border controls.”
The targeted lockdowns in Manila and nearby cities should consider the health aspects of compliance, and the government should avoid treating it as a peace and order issue, they said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas